Supersize, big business, growth industry, etc, etc. However you look at it, we seem to rate big companies more than micro-businesses. (This is, of course, totally daft. Small is beautiful in my book, but that’s not a discussion for today!)
If you are running a micro-business, are you ever frustrated by losing carefully nurtured customers to bigger competitors?
Interestingly, there’s a reason for this ‘sizist’ approach to selecting a supplier. We subconsciously believe that big businesses are more stable, and likely to do a better job for us. (It’s not always true of course, Enron, the ultimate business ‘baddie’, employed 29,000 staff and had revenues of over $100 billion in 2000, before its unscrupulous approach to business was finally revealed.) We associate size, with safety, and that helps us to make a positive buying decision.
When I worked for a small venture capital firm in the 1990s, our marketing was almost 100% focused on making the company appear bigger than it really was. This approach was critical as ‘new’ venture capitalists were not as popular as those with an established reputation. But, the problem with the venture capital industry is a lack of cashflow. You get paid with pieces of other people’s businesses, so until you make a successful exit from one of those businesses (i.e. it’s sold or floats on the stock market) it’s hard to generate much cash to pay for important things like, the electricity bill and tax. This cashflow issue meant that money for ‘luxuries’ like marketing was thin on the ground. We had to build a big brand on a shoestring budget.
We solved this problem by figuring out and implementing some marketing techniques that would make the company seem bigger, and more established than it was, but would need relatively little budget. Here’s what we came up with, you might find these useful if you want to big yourself up too:
1. Always use the best paper
This seems trivial, but it matters. Big companies invest in good quality materials, because they can afford to. If you are creating a printed item (or any physical object that your customer will touch), always get the highest quality card or paper stock you can, and use high-end finishing techniques. Poorly printed materials, or flimsy card stocks communicate ‘low-end’, so if you want to go bigger, push the boat out here.
2. Consider your location
Your prospective customers are checking you out before you know anything about them. They’ll be looking at Google to see where you are based. Your published address tells a story of its own, supporting or undermining your brand. When I worked at the venture capital firm, we were based in a Georgian Mayfair townhouse, like all the other VCs at the time. It cost a bomb, even though it was tiny, but that address commanded respect. You may not have deep enough pockets for Mayfair, you can use a registered business address that conveys more kudos and professionalism than your home address, or no address listed at all, does.
3. Handle incoming enquiries professionally
Big companies, ALWAYS answer the phone, because they can afford the staff to do this. My boss at the VC was very hot on making sure this happened, even if one the directors had to answer the phone personally during our receptionist’s lunch break! If you can’t always answer your phone, how about paying for an answering service? At the very least, make sure that your answer machine message is professional, and that you always respond.
4. Use freelancers to boost your headcount
You might not be ready to hire more employees, but you can find a set of brilliant freelancers to represent your business in the public eye. A big team, can help you to seem like a more ‘solid’ organisation. Virtual administrators, bookkeepers (like this one) and marketeers (like us!) are becoming more and more common and easy to find. And, the best of them should be used to representing you publicly, as if they are a full-time employee, rather than a virtual team member paid by the hour.
5. Formal Processes
Having standardised ways of dealing with business processes, such as how you handle new enquires, on-boarding new clients, handling problems, communicating key data etc, is the way that bigger businesses handle themselves. Getting these processes sorted out for your business, doesn’t cost much to you, but can make you seem like a big hitter in the marketplace, it’s worth taking the time to document the way that you do things so that the other members of your team, whether employed or ‘virtual’ can make you seem much bigger than you really are to the outside world.
Want to learn more about stretching your marketing budget further? We recently published this article about where to save and where to splurge.
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